I remember exactly where I was ‘when it happened’. Whilst many other major American tragedies like the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster happened before I was born, I was in my second year of high school on 11 September 2001. The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was the only thing that compared in my lifetime, but it is all but forgotten in the shadow of ‘September Eleventh’.
My older sister came into my room that morning to wake me up as she normally did, but this time she added, ‘An aeroplane crashed into the World Trade Center.’ ‘What?’ She was just as confused as I was and had merely heard the headline on her alarm clock radio. I thought at first, ‘The World Trade Center [near our home] in Long Beach?!’
We went into the family room and turned on the television. We saw live feed of the first tower, billowing smoke, then suddenly another jetliner appeared on screen. My first thought was, ‘Oh God, they actually got video of the crash.’ We knew nothing of a terrorist plot — at this point we assumed it was merely a single tragic aviation accident. But then I realised that we were still watching the live feed; a second plane had hit the second tower of the World Trade Center just after 6 AM, Pacific Standard Time. We watched in horror as reporters pointed out that what appeared to be small pieces of the building falling to the ground were not actually small pieces of the building, but were people. Before we had to leave for school the first tower collapsed.
I would find out later that the second tower collapsed, another plane had hit the Pentagon and yet another plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Throughout the day my teachers suspended their normal lessons. We sat in mourning, much of it in silence. We didn’t know the details of the tragedy, but we did know—and it was stated very explicitly by one teacher that day—that from now on the world would be a different place.
We would all eventually learn that the attacks were the plot of the terrorist group al-Qaeda (which has since become an infamous household name in America) and that in the end nearly 3000 people had been killed in the attacks and an additional 6000 were injured. These tragic events would come to justify the ‘War on Terror’ and the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and eventually Iraq. Western society underwent a metamorphosis almost immediately. Alongside institutional changes in national security policy, there was a massive shift in public consciousness. The radical Sunni Islam al-Qaeda was grouped with all Muslims and all people of Western Asian descent—your classmates, your neighbours, your doctor, etc.—could be potential terrorists. We were made to believe that al-Qaeda wanted to kill every last American simply for being American.
People will believe what they want — that terrorist groups like al-Qaeda are merely an example of what ‘true Islam’ looks like when fully embraced, that the West is oppressed merely for ‘being different’, that the events of September 11 were primarily a demonstration of a religion and not a political ideology. I cannot buy into these things.
God and the Christian religion are not so small and weak that we need to demonise every other belief system in order to justify our faith. I know why I am not a Muslim. It’s not because Islam is violent or necessarily archaic (and this is in no way a support of so-called ‘fundamentalist’ Islamic nations). I am not a Muslim because in many ways, the the teaching of the Islamic faith about God is different from the teaching of the Christian faith about God. It is the acts of the teaching of the Christian faith about God that call for any sort of adherence. This teaching espouses that God has invested in the creation to the utmost degree through the Incarnation and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is an expression of God’s love for and solidarity with the world, not merely a honourable prophet, as is held by the teaching of Islam. This teaching affirms all people in this solidarity and extends an invitation into the Kingdom and an intimate friendship through the Holy Spirit. The only proper response to such love and grace is a life of love, grace and service.
But the September 11 attacks were not simply attacks on one religion from another religion. America is not a Christian nation and—if you talk to the vast majority of Muslims around the world—al-Qaeda and any who would terrorise others in the name of Allah are not true Muslims. I don’t have a solution for the problems that have been introduced as a result of the tragedy that transpired nine years ago today, but as a Christian I do know that my responsibility is to love, to be just and to seek peace.
May all those who perished on 11 September 2001 rest in peace and may their loved ones be comforted by the God who so thoroughly loves the world.